Nine days of minicamp and 12 of OTAs. What did we learn about the 49ers this spring?
... That they have a true quarterback competition when training camp begins. Does Alex Smith's resurgence change the pecking order at quarterback? No. It still goes like this: Shaun Hill = No. 1, Alex Smith = No. 2, Damon Huard = No. 3, Nate Davis = No. 4. But it does mean that Mike Singletary's hope for a competition that squeezes the best out of both players, Hill and Smith, is a reality.
... That the 49ers are loaded at wide receiver. If I had to vote for an MVP of the spring practices, I might write down Josh Morgan's name. While the rest of his mates were either nursing injuries or working out at home, Morgan was all over the field, catching passes in April, May and June at multiple positions and from multiple quarterbacks. It was also significant that Morgan took the bulk of his snaps at "Z" after primarily playing "X" last season. My guess is that when the season begins, Isaac Bruce will be the starter at "Z" and Morgan will be back at "X." When Michael Crabtree is ready to step in, however, he'll likely do so at "X," giving the 49ers the option of playing either Morgan or Bruce at "Z."
... That Vernon Davis will be a bigger part of the passing game. Outgoing 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz was on NFL Network the other day. Asked about Davis, Martz called him the consummate tight in the NFL and the league's best in-line blocker at his position. Martz, however, seemed to use Davis as either an offensive tackle or a wide receiver. His role under Jimmy Raye promises to be more tight end-like - catching short and intermediary passes and turning up field.
... That the 49ers should have more interceptions than they did last season when they finished with 12. Both Dashon Goldson and Dre' Bly (who either will be a starter or a nickel cornerback) are ball hawks. Linebacker Manny Lawson, who promises to be on the field far more in 2009, also has shown a knack for getting his hands on the ball. Over/under on 49ers' INTs this season: 17.
I already nominated Josh Morgan for spring MVP. The position group that deserves kudos? How about the offensive line? Chilo Rachal was excused for a few practices to be on hand for the birth of his child and Barry Sims sat out a few plays with an injury, but other than that the attendance of the biggest group (both numbers and size) was excellent.
Rookies tend to look lost in May and June. Two who stood out were tight end Bear Pascoe, who showed good hands, and linebacker Scott McKillop, who showed better-then-expected coverage skills. It might not begin this season, but prepare yourself for a McWillis linebacker corps over the next decade or so. (I expect Crabtree and Glen Coffee to be the rookie stars of training camp).
The way I see it, 50 roster spots are locked up heading into training camp, leaving three up for grabs for enterprising young players. Keep an eye on... QB Davis, S Lewis Baker, S Curtis Taylor, RB Kory Sheets, RB Thomas Clayton, T Alex Boone, T Barry Sims, LB Mark Washington, LB Justin Roland, WR Michael Spurlock, WR Maurice Price.
-- Matt Barrows